By Joe Haggerty
WILMINGTON When youre on a playoff-level team, youd much rather be playing your best hockey at the end of the year than the beginning.
Thats exactly where Daniel Paille finds himself this season.
He had a sluggish start out of the gate and in Europe, was suspended for four games for his blindside hit on Raymond Sawada in the brawl game against the Dallas Stars, and has sat out more games (41) than hes played this season (38).
Paille still has the skating speed, the penalty-killing instincts and the necessary grit to thrive in a fourth line role as hes begun to over the last month and the 26-year-old is playing some of his best hockey of the season with the playoffs less than two weeks away.
The left wing has three points (2 goals and an assist) along with a plus-2 in his last five games while skating with some combination of Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton and Michael Ryder. Hes also been part of a penalty kill crew thats stopped the opposition in 18 of their last 20 chances while stabilizing a special teams unit that had really scuffled at the end of March.
I feel great. I think I feel faster and just more patient on a lot of plays, said Paille. I feel really happy with my play right now.
I focus on the penalty kill more than anything else. Coach Claude Julien trusts me out there, so I do whatever I can to not get scored against. Hopefully that continues as we keep moving on here.
Paille knows that the playoffs are coming and that he wants to be a part of it as he was last season, and that hustling, killing penalties and making plays are the magic formula to make certain hes in the lineup.
I try not get ahead of myself so the focus is on playing as well as possible in the games we have left in the year, said Paille. For me its plain and simple how I need to play. I enjoy that energy role and Im having a lot of fun with it right now.
Last year was a little bit easier because I was playing in every game, but its something Ive been battling through. With the way Ive been playing lately, hopefully I can keep that going through into the playoffs and to next year as well.
The nine points in 38 games for the season certainly indicate its less than Paille might have envisioned during the season. There were probably even some that thought hed be a problem once he and Andrew Ference disagreed over the defensemans comments following his hit on Sawada, but Paille never went off the Bs reservation and kept the team above petty individual concerns.
That won him some major points with his coach, and is certainly a big fat mark in the plus column when it comes to filling out Bostons postseason lineup.
First off, a player like Paille is more important than people think. He didnt have a great start to the season, and sometimes we put him in the lineup and he wasnt quite giving us the play we thought we could get from him, said Julien. Part of it is because he wasnt playing much, so hes not all to blame on that. At the same time you expect players to push themselves and make sure they make a good impression.
But through all of this up and down -- whether it was his fault or not his fault -- hes always been positive, hes been good with his teammates. Hes never disrupted the room, and hes been nothing but a great support guy. Weve been talking to him and he wants to play. He wants to play bad. But he also puts the team ahead of all that stuff, and whatever is frustrated inside of him -- he doesnt let it show.
There are four games left, and Julien is paying close attention to Paille, Ryder, Seguin, Thornton and other forwards fighting to keep away from healthy scratch status once Bostons playoff run begins at TD Garden on April 14.
Ive been here all year itching to play, and were getting to that time now with the playoffs and were going to playing a regular lineup in the playoffs, said Paille. Im giving everything I got on every shift and trying to maintain that. I hope the coaching staff recognizes that and keeps me in there.
Tyler Seguin has been growing out what hes calling a beard over the last week in anticipation of the playoffs, and with the knowledge that hell be shaving his head for the Cuts for a Cause charity event next week at Ned Devines in Boston.
If I have a clean shaved face and a shaved head then Im going to look like a 12-year-old out there, said the 19-year-old Seguin, who wouldnt shoot down the possibility of using some Just For Men hair coloring on the beard if its needed.
Brad Marchand was asked what hed be doing if he wasnt a hockey player given the training camp disappointments hed experienced over the last couple of years heading into this season, and had some fun with the answer before shining a light on what his life is like back in Nova Scotia.
Id probably be living on the streets somewhere, said a chuckling Marchand. I dont know. I always wanted to be a cop before I thought this was a possibility here, and my dad has a company back home that maybe Id be working for. So maybe I would have jumped on that.
The Bruins had a very easygoing Sunday practice with a scrimmage and shootout rather than a hard skate, but the players already had their minds focused on the New York Rangers Monday night, given that the Rangers could be a first-round playoff opponent.
There is always the possibility that we could meet this team in the playoffs, and that makes it an important one, said Julien. It was a good game with them last team and we lost 1-0 when their goaltender stood tall in the third period, so maybe this is our opportunity to get a better start and get a different result.
Shawn Thornton is still considered day-to-day as he battles some swelling in his sinuses stemming from the gash on his forehead, but he will make the trip to New York City with the rest of his teammates for Monday nights game.